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Former Secretary of Senate Dies at 89

William Hildenbrand, former Secretary of the Senate, died July 21.

Hildenbrand, 89, served as the Secretary of the Senate from 1981 to 1985. He was recognized last week by the Senate in a resolution.

“William F. Hildenbrand discharged the difficult duties and responsibilities of a wide variety of important and demanding positions in public life with honesty, integrity, loyalty and humility,” the resolution read.

Hildenbrand was born Nov. 28, 1921, in Pottstown, Pa. He joined the Army in 1942, during the middle of World War II, and served in the infantry in the European theater.

He began a career as a radio announcer in Philadelphia after the war, but he was deployed again when the Korean War began.

Hildenbrand first came to Capitol Hill in 1957 as a staffer for Rep. Harry Haskell (R-Del.). After Haskell lost re-election the following year, Hildenbrand joined the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

He made his return to the Hill when he started working for Sen. Hugh Scott (R-Pa.) in 1969, then the Minority Whip. Hildenbrand continued to worked for Scott during his time as the Minority Leader.

In 1974, Hildenbrand became the Senate’s Secretary for the Minority. He became known for keeping track of how Members were going to vote.

“Back then, things were less polarized than they are today,” Senate Historian Donald Ritchie said. “The leadership couldn’t count on Members always voting with their caucuses, so [Hildenbrand] devised ways to see how Members would vote. He’d talk to people.”

After Republicans took over the majority in 1981, Hildenbrand was named the Secretary of the Senate. He served for four years before retiring in 1985.

His greatest accomplishment was helping the new Senate Majority Leader, Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), with the transition from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority, the first time it had happened in 26 years, Ritchie said.

“They made sure that the Senate continued to operate in the way that it had,” Ritchie said. “It was done in such a professional manner, with no wholesale layoffs and a lack of disruption, unlike the House transition in 1995. It set the standard for the Senate.”

During Hildenbrand’s last testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, Appropriations Chairman Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) spoke of his accomplishments.

“I have been saying extra prayers for the survival of the Republic when he does leave,” Hatfield said. “He is an example of a man who had a vision of wanting to be identified with a part of his government, and that vision was realized.”

Hatfield ended up insisting that Hildenbrand contribute his stories from his 23 years of service to the Senate’s oral history program by the end of that exchange.

Hildenbrand wrote a memoir in 2007: “When the Senate Cared.”

“I hope you find humor in my musings …” he wrote in the preface. “Although almost unbelievable, they really are true stories — even though you might say, ‘Yeah, right!’”

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